Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Eden Park wrong for league

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The Kiwis suffered yet another loss to Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs  Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Kiwis suffered yet another loss to Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs Photo / Brett Phibbs

League doesn't work at Eden Park. Friday night's test was lost in the vastness of the wrongly-shaped football ground. Even James "Turncoat" Tamou got off lightly from a distant crowd saving its energy for a Mexican wave.

This is not a party broadcast on behalf of the old league-ites who won't put a foot in the rugby stronghold on political grounds. But having watched tests and other major league matches in a wide range of stadiums, from Wembley to Carlaw Park, there is a formula that works for the game and one that does not.

Brisbane's purpose-built football ground Suncorp Stadium - a superb place - is about as big as it should get. Otherwise, league needs to get off the grandiose horse and play the game where it flourishes as a gladiatorial sport, in genuine football grounds.

League is made for intimate settings, where the crowd becomes integral to the game rather than being interested observers who get animated now and then. In smaller, more compact venues, the crowds feeds off the players, and the players react to the crowd.

The result can be sensational.

Carlaw Park and the league stadium at Warrington in England were the venues for the two occasions that will always live on in my heart - the games being Auckland's 1989 win over Australia and Tonga's near-upset over the Kiwis in 1995. The atmosphere on those marvellous nights had to be experienced to be believed. You quickly forgot that you were sitting in sports' versions of a car wreck.

The former Kiwi braveheart Richie Barnett, writing in the Herald, described the lifting effect of a raucous crowd at the boutique North Harbour Stadium during the 1998 win over Australia.

That was another never-to-be-forgotten atmosphere, although trying to file copy while seated among that wild crowd was a nightmare. (The key ingredient missing from the North Harbour press box was the box).

North Harbour Stadium, Mt Smart Stadium or even Waikato Stadium. While in various states of imperfection - Waikato's only problem is distance from the major Auckland market - they are the best league venues in this part of the world, and would offer the Kiwis advantages.

There may be a short term economic downside with smaller crowds compared to Eden Park. But the long term benefits associated with increasing the chances of heartstopping entertainment and a Kiwi victory outweigh any negatives by a long way. In five major rugby league matches at Eden Park, Australian teams have triumphed every time over the Kiwis and Warriors. This is not a coincidence.

CHIEFS FIND STOUT SOUL

Stout defence is at the core of the Chiefs' remarkable Super 15 rugby turnaround this season.

Under new coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, they have developed a tough soul. Time to remember that Smith was the defence and counter-attack strategist for the World Cup-winning All Blacks last year. Like a few others, I had continued assuming (and written on occasion) that former test No10 Smith was the All Blacks' backs coach, but had to be reminded that this job ended up in the hands of Graham Henry.

The All Blacks' defence won the World Cup final for them, and Smith is doing the business again at the Chiefs.

As for Rennie, he comes across as a tough, old-school character who did the hard yards with Manawatu and is a coach on the rise. Pairing him with the vastly experienced Smith is shaping as a master stroke.

REF ONE-EYED?

The Crusaders were too powerful for an intimidated Hurricanes side disrupted by late withdrawals, but they were helped by strangely one-sided officiating from Craig Joubert and his team, particularly over critical forward passes. Whatever happened to the notion that home ground advantage has an effect on the refereeing?

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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